Impressionist Rory Bremner “saved John Major’s bacon” with a series of hoax calls to backbench Tories in the nineties, an MP claimed.
TV funnyman Bremner sparked panic in Downing Street in 1993 when he called a number of Conservative MPs purporting to be Mr Major.
The then-prime minister, who was leading a party fractured over the Maastricht crisis, ordered Whitehall’s top civil servant to investigate the calls and find out what his MPs had divulged.
The details of that inquiry have now been released by the National Archives.
It has emerged that Sir Robin Butler, then Cabinet Secretary, had difficulty convincing one MP that the call had been a hoax.
Sir Richard Body refused to believe Sir Robin, saying Mr Major had “done himself a good turn”.
Sir Robin noted that the MP “was convinced”, stating: “Body remarked if it had been an actor, he would have been at the top of his profession.”
With each re-explanation that the call was a hoax, Sir Richard appeared to dig in further.
“If he denies it, he goes down in my estimation; that call saved him.
“You should tell the PM that the call had saved his bacon.”
At the time, the calls were no laughing matter.
Sir Robin feared that Bremner’s impression of Mr Major was so accurate that he could lure Chancellor Ken Clarke into leaking advance details of the Budget.
A leak would have been devastating to Mr Major, then steering an administration with a fragile majority.
The prank calls were intended for use in the comedian’s popular series, Rory Bremner, Who Else? but were never broadcast.